The first proper Church at Notre Dame was constructed in 1848, however the university soon outgrew the original church and planning for the current Basilica was begun in the spring of 1869. In January of 1879, architect T. Brady from St. Louis drafted plans for the new church, with input from Fr. Edward Sorin, C.S.C.,, Fr. Alexis Granger, C.S.C., and Br. Charles Borromeo Harding, C.S.C. The new church was erected in Gothic Revival architecture, reflecting Fr. Sorin's French taste and his will to build a remarkable and striking landmark. Work on the foundations for the new church began in the spring of 1870, and the cornerstone was laid on May 31, 1871, with six bishops present, including Cincinnati Archbishop John Purcell. The building took many years to finish and underwent many changes. As soon as it was inhabitable, university leaders installed an organ and held functions and celebrations in the unfinished building. The first Mass was held on August 15, 1875. In 1887, the Lady Chapel was added; the north end of the church, completed in 1875, was previously bricked off. Bishop Joseph Gregory Dwenger finally consecrated the new sanctuary on August 15, 1888, during the celebrations for the golden jubilee of the ordination of Fr. Edward Sorin. The steeple was completed in 1892.
When the new church was begun in 1870, Fr. Sorin decided to order glass windows from the Carmel du Mans Glassworks, owned by the Carmelite nuns, who had provided windows for the first church in 1863 and with whom Fr. Sorin had a long standing relationship. In 1873, the Carmelite nuns sold the Glasswork business to Edouard Rathouis, glasswork importer and nephew of Mother Eléonore, mother prioress of the nuns. This sale occurred only a few months after the order for the Notre Dame windows had begun, hence only the first windows painted in 1874 were made by the Carmelites themselves.
To pay for the windows, sponsors were solicited. Major contributors to buy the windows were Alexis Coquillard and Sister M. Germaine of the Passion, C.S.C., who donated her inheritance of seventeen thousand francs for the chapel and sanctuary windows. Additionally, Notre Dame received a ten percent commission on all windows ordered due to Sorin's influence, who publicized the company in America. The Carmel du Mans Glassworks realized the potential publicity of a large order in America, and hence did a high-quality job and also signed all their windows with the company name, which they previously had not done. In 1880, Edouard Rathouis sold the Carmel du Mans Glasswork to Eugène Hucher. This is reflected in the signage of the windows, which read first “Carmel du Mans, E. Rathouis” (in the earlier works in the nave) and finally “Fabrique du Carmel du Mans, Hucher et Fils, Successors” (in the last windows in the Lady Chapel). The contract for the windows was negotiated by Sorin and signed by Fr. Auguste Lemonnier, C.S.C., who was president at the time.
In 1931, it underwent its first thorough renovation designed by New York architect Wilfred E. Anthony. The Church was renovated again between the late sixties and early seventies with the intention of bringing it in line with the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council. The high altar was retained, but moved back and an ornate wooden freestanding altar was placed at the crossing. The choir stalls were removed from the presbytery and moved to the Lady Chapel and the stations of the Cross painted by Gregori were put in storage. In 1969, the altar rail was removed and the pulpit was substituted with one at a shorter height. These changes, in line with the direction of the Council, were meant to remove barriers between the celebrant and the congregation.
The last major renovation began in 1989 and was executed by Conrad Schmitt Studios. During this renovation, some of the 1968 renovations were reverted, including the return of the Gregori stations of the Cross and a return of more ornate decoration. The conservation and restoration of the historic stained glass windows, created in Le Mans, France, was one of the studio's largest single projects, with 116 windows and over 1,200 panels of glass. On January 17, 1992, Pope John Paul II raised the Church of the Sacred Heart to the status of Minor Basilica, which had been Sorin's desire since 1888. The Basilica’s newest addition was the organ, designed by Paul Fritts & Company Organ builders out of Tacoma, Washington. The four-manual, 70 stop Murdy Family Organ contains 5,194 pipes and stands 40 feet high. It was installed over the course of several months in 2016.
The Basilica has been visited by many prominent individuals, including Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, the Holy See’s Secretary of State (and future Pope Pius XII) on October 25, 1936 and His All Holiness, Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch on October 28, 2021. The Basilica has also been the host of a number of prominent funerals, Knute Rockne, Regis Philbin, and Fr. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C.